Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why don't Vietnamese advertising agencies and design studios win awards?

Ogilvy and Mather Vietnam, Award Shows, Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam, Cu Chi Tunnel Museum, Western Union, Sun Flower Media, Cannes Young Lions,  Advertising, You're waiting for the answer aren't you? Are they lousy designers? Poor writers? Bad thinkers? No, it's much worse than that. Vietnamese agencies and studios don't win awards because they don't enter. It's that simple, and that silly. They don't win because they don't play, and there wouldn't be a punter on a football field worldwide who doesn't know that - but still the local companies continue not to enter, and continue not to win, because they don't even play the game. And so they stay in the same low-priced category that they and their fellow countrymen have destined the country to stay in, at least for a while.

I bring this up after a conversation with a Vietnamese firm about a design project in which the client was wanting to play on a world stage but the branding firm wasn't ready quite yet. Here a local firm, tops in their field, was running up against the Achilles heel of Vietnamese thinking - can a country that always competes on low price, ever break free of those economic chains and begin to make money by offering world class quality with Vietnamese flair? I believe they can, but I can tell you first hand, that there is absolutely no money to be made in trying to teach people that. That is a decision that students of all kinds, and certainly students of prosperity, must come to on their own.

Ogilvy and Mather Vietnam, Award Shows, Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam, Cu Chi Tunnel Museum, Western Union, Sun Flower Media, Cannes Young Lions,  Advertising, The merits of advertising and design shows can be debated until the cows come home with detractors saying they're only good for further inflating egoistic creative craniums and supporters trumpeting the world acceptance of a company's product, higher service fees for that product, as well as the motivational aspects for staff and clients as well. I'm on the supporting side. Clients love winning awards for their work, so long as the agency pays the entry fees - and the staff benefits are immeasurable. Winning awards sets a real tone for a company - the tone of winners, the tone of players.

But luckily, a few of the multinational agencies are showing that the Vietnamese can do it and the Sun Flower
Media company is sponsoring the Cannes Young Lions student competition here. Above, see Ogilvy & Mather Vietnam's campaign for motorcycle helmet wearing. While a little shock-valued for my taste the campaign was widely published in print, TV and outdoor and won international awards - bringing international kudos to the work of Vietnamese creatives. Two other campaigns from Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam won Bronze Lions at Cannes - One for the Cu Chi Tunnel Museum and the other for international client Western Union. And where were the Western Union creatives from New York during this exercise? Apparently taking a nap while the Vietnamese cleaned their international clocks. The saying in New York goes, "If you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere", but I like to think we can do that here in Vietnam as well.

Many of us
Ogilvy and Mather Vietnam, Award Shows, Saatchi and Saatchi Vietnam, Cu Chi Tunnel Museum, Western Union, Sun Flower Media, Cannes Young Lions,  Advertising, remember the days, not always so fondly, where products from Japan and Korea were considered cheap and low quality. No more. How many years will it take before products from China and Vietnam are regarded as world-class? Maybe not long at all - but before that can happen companies need to believe it can be so, and there's no better way to test the waters than by throwing your work into the international awards arena and seeing how it swims. Vietnam's marketing and design community has the talent to do it - all they need are Vietnamese company CEO's who have a desire to win and the staff to fill out those troublesome entry forms. It's time for Vietnamese companies to win a few trophies. All they need to do is get on the field.

This story made the Wall Street Journal 'Best of theWeb Today' on October 12, 2010. Scroll down through the Nancy Pelosi story under the heading: 'Questions Nobody is Asking'.
We're the first story listed.


  1. Interesting to learn that about Vietnamese ad agencies. Also interesting to see English with Vietnamese tone and vowel marks. Why so? And BTW, it's Achilles heel.

  2. yes, they dont win awards cos they dont see the value in them. i tried to get 100 bucks for an entry into "the golden bell" as a test once, just to see if the management would say... the answer was no, "dont see the point". sure this was the golden bell awards and hardly worthwhile apart from some local kudos, imagine asking for 500 or 1000 bucks for an award entry, which doesn't directly add to their profit margin.

  3. Here's a little math for the boys. Let's say you spend $5000 a year on awards shows - and that gets you anywhere up to 25 or so entries, depending on the cost of the show. How many ads can you buy for that? 2? How much PR? And you win 1 out of 20 - and then write the headline "Vietnam agency wins New York Award", and send it out to the press. We did that in Korea after winning just once, and then brought the New York Show into town (for another $400). The benefits to our bottom line were immeasurable. We got front page business press in all the major dailies. We got a CNBC film story (5 minute feature). We couldn't have bought press like that, so we won it. And that helped us win business. Ask management what it's worth to be on CNBC? If they never enter, they never win, and they'll never know how to play like a winner - and be paid like one.

  4. Thanks for the spellcheck! The accent marks and hand-painted style are the art director's brilliance in using old Vietnamese hand painted signs as a reference.

  5. indeed but the creative has to be good and original before it could get near any awards, and there is still a long way to go. even the multinationals cant get it right, the local agencies are years behind in terms of talent development.

  6. You have completely not mentioned culture, as a collective society and not an individualistic society, their concerns are less about awards, ego and the rat race that most westerners follow. I think that's abmirable in this day of cut throat competition and the major buyouts in the industry.

    It has nothing to do with talent


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